The investigation of whether ‘general legal advice’ should become a reserved legal activity will begin next year, the Legal Services Board (LSB) has revealed.
It has also given a strong steer on what it hopes to see come out of the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR), saying there is a risk that the benefits of alternative business structures will be limited if the education and training of lawyers and the legal workforce remains “inflexible”.
The LSB is set to recommend to the Lord Chancellor that will-writing and estate administration should become reserved activities, and earlier this year acknowledged the potential confusion caused by the patchwork of reserved activities at the moment.
It said the best approach would be to investigate whether there are common risks and features in the provision of general legal advice “that indicate that the regulatory objectives would be best served by reservation delivering a common minimum set of regulatory protections”.
The LSB’s 2013/14 draft business plan, published for consultation on Wednesday, said it will now begin work on this and publish a discussion paper by the end of next year.
However, the LSB’s thinking on the LETR – which is due to report this month – indicates that even if such advice does become reserved, it will not be just to solicitors, chartered legal executives and other existing branches of the profession.
It said: “We trust this work will ensure that individuals, firms, educators, training organisations, and others are free to design, develop, deliver and utilise a range of routes into the legal workforce, to becoming an authorised person with or without a professional title.”
The LSB said its role in this process is to help regulators to “keep a clear focus on the educational, professional and ethic outcomes to be attained and maintained, but without prescription about the way that this is achieved”.
As reported yesterday, the business plan has a key focus on the performance of the frontline regulators, and partly as a result it proposes only one new piece of work – a probe into the “cost and complexity” of regulation.
This will look at the “totality of costs that practitioners face simply in order to be able to practise”, such as practising certificate fees (including the elements that pay for certain of the representative bodies’ non-regulatory activities), insurance and compensation, and compliance costs.
“This investigation will also attempt to understand the underlying causes for costs and the impact that the complex legislation underpinning the regulatory framework, the approach of regulators and the perceptions of the regulated community have on the costs burden,” it said.
The LSB is proposing that its own £4.5m budget will be trimmed by £50,000, while also absorbing inflation increases. During 2013 it will review the way that the levy on the regulated professions that pays for the LSB and Legal Ombudsman is currently collected.
Another key piece of work that will move forward during 2013/14 is the review of regulatory sanctions and appeals processes to reduce the “complications and inconsistencies” that currently exist in how the different regulators deal with disciplinary matters.
Other planned research topics – which the LSB said it will need help from others to complete given its £250,000 research budget – include public access to the Bar, consumer experiences of ‘DIY’ law, and investigating the existence of pay gaps in the legal sector.